Origins

“A project is a draught of the future. Sometimes the future needs hundreds of draughts.”
Jules Renard (1864-1910)

In 2003, I began teaching children, ranging in age from 7 to 13, about world religions. Many of them live in my multicultural neighbourhood. It seemed obvious to me that stimulating their senses – seeing, hearing, but also touch, taste and smell – would be the only way to to awaken their curiosity for the subject.

Muslim Festival © JGL
Muslim Festival | © JGL

Attention > Interest > Desire > Action

Each Saturday morning we met in my kitchen around a festively decorated table, laden with unfamiliar food and drink, to celebrate a traditional religious holiday. The air was often hazy with incense. The children listened to carefully selected music and stories, watched films, played games and did some craftwork. They also pored over plasticised images and maps, and handled venerated objects. At the end of each series of 7 traditions, their parents were invited to join us on a visit to one local place of worship: a synagogue, a mosque, a church or a Hindu or Buddhist temple. The ‘alumni’ and their parents were always welcome to join the group. Our hosts often commented about the quality of the questions and how the interest of the children equaled, if not surpassed, that of their parents.
Although I was prepared to find few tools for teaching world religions to children, and unsurprised to find none at all based on exploration through the 5 senses, I was deeply troubled by the dearth of unbiased teaching material.

Celebrating Festivals © Ian Gordon-Lennox
Celebrating a Buddhist Festival | © Ian Gordon-Lennox

“Education is about the exquisiteness and magic of life… it is not based on fear of failure but on enthusiasm to learn. The “every man for himself” attitude gives way to the power of solidarity and complementarity. Individual talents are at the service of all. Abstract intelligence is balanced with the practical know-how only hands can learn. Children are awakened to nature, beauty and their responsibility for life. All this is essential for the elevation of their consciousness…”

Pierre Rabhi (1933-)
French agriculturalist and activist of Algerian origin

As my search for suitable material continued, out of necessity, I started making my own. Being primarily a visual person, I began by collecting images, then ideas for a series of short films. I discovered one set of films en English for youth but the American cultural references made it inaccessible for European children. A similarly well-intentioned project (for adults) in French provoked uncontrollable fits of laughter in the children each time the narrating Professor came onto the screen. Material from so-called scientific viewpoint – where “religion” is approached with the precautionary distance of an entomologist examining a potentially dangerous insect – proved equally disappointing. The discovery of a board game created for adults by a French Bahá’í couple inspired me to begin development of an electronic version…

Shinto Festival © JGL
Shinto Festival | © JGL

Through it all, Confucius’ wisdom has helped this dreamer maintain perspective:

“When you set out to do something, remember that you will have against you
Those who want to do the same thing
Those who want to do the opposite and
The immense majority of those who don’t want to do anything at all.”
Confucius (551-479 AEC)

Over the last 10 years, my efforts to create new tools took on nearly as many forms as the Hindu deities. I learned at my expense that technical, financial and staff-related setbacks are the regular lot of those who aspire to create something new. Experts and funding appeared and melted away – more or less hand-in-hand – leaving behind flotsam and jetsam but very little worth salvaging.

Thanks to support from my husband and children, and gifts from family and close friends, I persist with draughts of the future, imagining a world where people live together in joy and peace.
A very special thank you to each one of the many children who came ever so eagerly to play and learn on Saturday mornings; I am also of course grateful to their parents who entrusted them to my care.

“Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Continue to learn. Play with abandon. Choose with no regret. Laugh! Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.”
Mary Anne Radmacher (1957-)

Jeltje Gordon-Lennox, Project Coordinator
The 30th of May 2014
Geneva, Switzerland